Master of Finance program challenges senior manager to think ahead, be creative

MALVERN, Pa. — After 20 years of experience climbing the corporate ladder, Ivan Concepcion, a corporate assistant controller, finds himself back in school, pursuing a master’s degree in finance.

Ivan Concepcion

Ivan Concepcion, a corporate assistant controller, is pursuing a Master of Finance from Penn State. A leader in his company, he enrolled in the program to specifically expand his financial acumen and provide value to his organization.

Credit: Elizabeth Palmer

Concepcion’s resume is impressive: He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting, landed a position with a Big Four accounting firm after college, earned his CPA, and has held a variety of auditing and reporting positions at various consumer product companies. Not seeking a promotion or a raise, he enrolled in Penn State Great Valley’s program — offered online through World Campus — to specifically expand his financial acumen and provide value to his company.

“I’m not here for a degree,” he said. “I’m here for the experience; I want to bring a new perspective to my company. A graduate degree has been a long-time goal of mine. I chose finance because it’s forward-thinking. Accounting looks backwards — you’re evaluating what already happened. Finance is creative and focused on the future.”

But Concepcion started the program at a bad time. It was chaotic at work: His organization acquired a new company just as his team was closing their year-end books. He was working 60 plus hours a week. His twins were in high school; his wife recently started a doctoral program.

“I just had to figure it out,” said Concepcion. “I learned how to prioritize what’s important. I had to learn when I’m over my head and ask for help when I needed it. I schedule time with my family and complete coursework at night.”

He stuck with it and determined a plan. And despite the demands of pursuing a graduate degree while balancing a senior management position, Concepcion attributes his academic success to his years of work experience. While many of his classmates were just starting their careers, Concepcion relied on real scenarios and examples from the various positions he’s held.

“I see things differently,” he said. “I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. My background is in financial reporting, so I have a good idea of what clients and managers look for. It enables me to ask better questions. Having held many roles at different companies, it helps me think about the application and impact.”

As part of the program, Concepcion recently traveled to Great Valley’s campus in Malvern. Breaking up into small groups, the cohort of students spent their weeklong residency determining stock valuation for a company. Concepcion saw this as a shift in the program — where concepts go from theoretical to actual.

“The course focused on application,” he said. “The program started on a granular level, learning theories. Now is where things get interesting. With this kind of project, I’m starting to connect the dots. It’s all coming together; it’s making sense.”

Halfway through the program, he’s already relating financial concepts to his role at work. But even more importantly, he’s achieving a personal goal.

“It’s not about staying comfortable; it’s about challenging yourself,” he reflected. “I’m pushing myself to be a better, more strategic leader.”